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Parental Alienation In Childhood

Parental alienation is devastating for the parent, and also for the child. Why would a child want to alienate themselves from their parent? Often when the other parent is abusive and there is a custody battle, but this isn’t always the case. This is an important issue to learn about if you have or are currently in a custody battle.

Don’t be fooled; parental alienation isn’t just one single thing. It has many components. There is a lot to learn about parental alienation. We’ve broken it down into the three main arenas in which we need to study it.

Divorce and Alienation

“Custody battles” between parents that affects the children, making them feel alienated from one of their parents.

The “effects of divorce” that affect children.

How others, like the child’s therapist, other professionals associated with the case, and even the police in the community can be affected by parental alienation.

Parental Alienation is a theory about how children are alienated from one parent when there is a divorce in the family. The theory was created by Drs Byron G. Johnson and Annette M. Lareau in their book, “Losing Our Shared Selves: The A Sociology of Divorce”. This theory is a way to help understand the behaviors of children when they are having trouble with having two parents that have divorced. This theory talks about the difference between healthy parenting and unhealthy, or pathological, parenting. Healthy parenting means that the parent cares for their child’s needs and helps them to feel close to them. Pathological parenting means that the parent tries to control their child so that they can only see things from this parent’s point of view and not from any other view point from society.

This is dangerous to a child’s well being and go a with them throughout adulthood as well. There are many theories that can help us understand parental alienation, such as the conflict theory, time-limited dependency.

When there is a little known fact about these kinds of theories is that they are only theories created by people with clinical backgrounds. There has been no clinical evidence to back up these theories and it only brainstorms other people’s ideas.

The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was created by Dr. Richard A. Gardner in 1985, to name the disorder which occurs when a child is prevented from having a normal emotional bond with one parent by the other. He called this the alienation of affection syndrome in his article “Parental Alienation Syndrome and The Diagnosis of Child Abuse.” This term is used when a child has an abnormal hatred for one parent that can be proven by at least three signs that are listed below;

1. The child expresses a desire to hurt the parent

2. The child shows unreasonable fear of the parent

3. The child demonstrates a desire not to have any contact with the parent


4. The child refuses to maintain contact and communication with the parent, or does so minimally, resulting in a persistent deficit in the quantity and quality of contact between the other parent, and his or her children. 

The minimal acceptable quantity and quality of communication is left up to that local court system’s discretion, if the parent is lucky to get that far. If not, it can cause lifelong toxic conditions for both parent and child. When these four signs are present, it is time for the parents to go to court and fight for sole custody of their child. Once Judge and legal professionals find that there are four of these signs present, then they would grant an order for Dr. Gardner’s Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) or a formal diagnosis from his or her own third party mental health professional. It may also include the therapist’s report as well, and any medical evidence that they can gather to prove that this disorder is present. It is important for the child to have a therapist or mental health professional involved in the case. This proves that there is an issue of alienation from one parent or the other, and that can help in court.

In court, both child and parents should be given a chance to speak before a judge. The judge then makes a decision in regards to the custody of their children. This can happen in the beginning of a divorce or at any other time. If the judge believes that there is a case of PAS he/she will order that the psychiatrist examine each parent to determine if the child is being alienated from them. This takes several weeks or even months, and if it turns out that it is not there, then the visitation schedule will go on as normal. Therefore a judge is reluctant to do this unless there is a compelling reason.

If this ruling is made then they must take the next step and have an interview with both parents about their relationship with one another. This is done by a neutral person that has no ties to either child or the parents. This person is usually a social worker, therapist, or other professional. The goal of the interview is to determine if anyone is being controlled, harmed, or manipulated by any one of the parties involved in the custody battle. It determines how much each parent needs to be supervised. If PAS is present then it can be used in court as evidence for an alienating parent’s divorce case. It is worth pointing out here that this is very difficult to prove and takes the skills of a highly competent person to understand the situation and subtleties used by the alienating parent.

Dr. Gardner believes that the PAS is due to one parent trying to have complete control over the other parent and their children, so they can abuse them emotionally. He also believes that a child can be alienated from a parent due to one of three reasons;

1. The abuse itself is so harmful and damaging that the child has no choice but to alienate from the parent.

2. The child’s feelings towards a parent are influenced by that parent’s actions towards the child.

3. The alienation is triggered by something that occurs during the divorce, such as one parent throwing insults at the other, making threats or even using physical force against the other parent, or one of them moving out of state or country with their children.

Dr. Gardner states that in order for a child to be alienated from a parent there must be at least one controlling factor present, if not then this will not occur.

Alienated Children as Adults 

When an alienated child gets to adulthood the damage is hard wired in them. This damage affects how they relate to other people and may manifest in withdrawal (such as in drug use) or aggression. aggression is sometimes exhibited in the adult child keeping the people around them very close in a tightly knit bind, almost controlling, because this is how they learned to gain love as a child, and excluding those they view as the enemy. That is, the alienated parent and anyone who dares to side with them. 

Everything comes from a position of pain

The sad thing is that this is the adult child’s ‘learned’ behaviour. It is not an essential part of who they are. As adults, they have many other things going on in their life, so reconciliation with the estranged parent will not be high on their list of priorities. Indeed, it’s probably the last thing that they want to do because it brings up the trauma and pain of the past.

When children are alienated from a parent, they often feel abandoned and vulnerable. This can lead to feelings of anger towards the alienated parent, and can cause them not to trust the alienated parent. Children tend to blame themselves for what has happened, because they feel like the alienated parent is doing it all on purpose. Many children suffer in silence and do not inform their parents of their ongoing issues with alienation until years after the divorce has been finalized, if ever.

Do You Suffer From Low Self-Esteem?

As an adult, the child will develop a feeling of powerlessness and develop feelings of low self-esteem, due to the situation. An adult child will often come up with justifications for why they feel as they do about the one parent, with negative emotions and thoughts that are not originally their own. These are often used to cover up an issue that happened during their childhood that they do now want to, or cannot, face. They find it hard to trust people again, which will limit them from developing new relationships. 

What an estranged child might expect when they try to reconciliation with their parent as an adult is an unfair expectation because, as adults, we all have different perspectives and life experiences that will weigh heavily in how we perceive a circumstance. Therefore, it is important for the adult child to not allow their expectations to dictate how they will be treated as an adult by their former parent. Instead, it is important for the adult child to explore the facts as they see them and present them openly to their parent. If the parent is open to the facts and willing to hear them, there may be a possibility for the adult child to forge a new relationship.

It can be hard to come to terms with the reality of the situation and reconciliation is a process that takes effort on both sides. 

 Sometimes the estranged parent may appear to still have the traits the child has been trained to hate and is triggered by, and when that appears to be the case, it is very difficult to accept that they have reconciled with a parent, when that parent has not changed and, more importantly, did not change for them. This can cause confusion and uneasiness in many cases, which results in a lot of emotional pain. These are the negative feelings that an alienated child May experience. Remember the adult child has learned to despise those traits.

Many adult children feel as though they are suffering from unnoticed symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their symptoms are triggered by events, people, places, and things that remind them of their hostile childhood.

Many adult-children will experience flashbacks of traumatic events from their childhood and these can include false memories, triggered through PTSD to deal with situations that they are unable to process as a child, which complicates their sense of their experience. These are often very vivid and can spark feelings of intense anxiety or fear. It is possible for an adult-child to have a PTSD diagnosis after enduring chronic trauma during childhood. This can be distressful for the adult child. The symptoms of PTSD can make it hard to live a normal and healthy life. It is important that the adult-child seeks professional treatment.

One of the most common symptoms reported by alienated children is stress, which is a result of the unknown future when it comes to their parents or other family members. This lack of information can cause intense feelings of worry and anxiety.

It is also common for children to show signs of depression, anger, guilt and shame, which can come from the emotional abuse they experienced from their controlling parent. They often feel that there is something wrong with them or that they are to blame.

It is common for children of divorce to eventually develop a form of self-sabotage that interferes in their personal relationships as adults. This behavior can lead to an early death due to substance abuse or suicide. Hopefully this is not the case in a situation you are involved in.

Efforts to reconciliation between a parent and an adult child often involve extensive counseling and therapy. This is a slow process that requires time, dedication and determination.

Recovery from estrangement as an adult child includes the following:

1. Opening the lines of communication with your estranged parent, or family members, in order to develop a better understanding of the situation. This will help you to forgive yourself for any part that you may have played in the estrangement and will allow you to rebuild your self-esteem.

2. Finding additional support through friends and professional counseling to help you accept not only your parents, but yourself as well. You will heal from many of the invisible wounds that have been affecting you over the years.

3. You will gain a sense of inner peace and power, which will help you to let go of the anger that has been plaguing you for so long. You are now able to focus on the future without these burdens weighing you down. You are now ready to be part of your family again.

Dr. Richard A. Gardner is an American psychiatrist best known for his work as a child custody evaluator in high-conflict divorce cases, as well as for his controversial theory of “parental alienation”.

A clinical psychologist specialized in the study of childhood abuse and trauma, stated that “parental alienation is a disorder of power, control and jealousy.”

Many estranged children may not be aware that they are suffering from the effects of PAS, and feel as though there is something wrong with them. The alienated parent is often diagnosed with a Mental Disorder during the divorce, which may cause some relief in their mind.

A person who speaks out against parental alienation as an adult child often feels isolated and alone. Many people have been traumatized by this process and are reluctant to take action if it threatens the relationship with their estranged parent. Also, there is often no one available to help them through their pain and trauma once it has occurred. This can cause these individuals to feel defeated and depressed.

There are many people who feel that they do not have any rights or options when trying to resolve an alienation situation as an adult child of divorce. They often feel as though they have no choice but to go along with the alienation and move forward in life alone without any support or protection.

This can be a very difficult process for those that are involved in the alienation situation as an adult child. They often have little knowledge of the law, which can make it even harder to know what their rights are and how to get help. It is hard for them to feel empowered and take action when they cannot. It can be very upsetting to live with feelings of guilt or shame, because they were told that they would not be loved by their alienated parent if they made any demands from the unrelated parent, or even through therapy.

Even after these events, progress is slow due to the damage that is already present within the child’s life. They may need many years of therapy to be able to heal correctly. Each person will need to move at their own pace and no one can say how long this will take.

If you are struggling with your relationships with your parents as an adult or if you have been able to forge a healthy adult relationship. I would love to hear from you.